Kuehne takes first-round lead at SBS Open
By JAYMES SONG
By JAYMES SONG
KAHUKU —Kelli Kuehne was thrilled about her first round of the year. She also realized there's a lot more golf ahead.
Kuehne shot a bogey-free 5-under 67 today to take a one-stroke lead after the first round of the LPGA Tour's season-opening SBS Open.
"I love the start I got off to, but it's the first round," she said. "I've got a couple more to go. I don't want to get ahead of myself."
Annika Sorenstam, coming off an injury-shortened season where she failed to win for the first time since her rookie season in 1994, opened with a 70 — matching playing partner and defending champion Paula Creamer.
"I thought I played pretty well," Sorenstam said. "It's not easy to come out after two months. ... I'm taking a lot of positive out of today."
South Korea's Jacqueline Yang had a 68, and 10-time winner Cristie Kerr was another stroke back along with Meena Lee, Lindsey Wright, Wendy Ward, Erica Blasberg, Ji-Young Oh and 45-year-old Sherri Steinhauer.
Kuehne was in the second group off the 10th tee and took advantage of the tranquil morning conditions.
"I hit it well and I made a couple putts, so I'm certainly not complaining about my first round of '08," said Kuehne, whose best finish last year was a tie for 24th at the MasterCard Classic. She tied for 25th a year ago at Turtle Bay.
The 30-year-old Kuehne attacked the pins with several strong wedge shots from about 100 yards and made a move just before the turn by birdieing Nos. 16-18. She made a 60-foot birdie putt on the par-3 fourth to reach 5 under.
"It was a bomb," she said. "I was lucky."
The former University of Texas standout was considered a rising star after she won U.S. Women's Amateur titles in 1995 and '96 before turning pro.
She won 1999 LPGA Corning Classic but has struggled in the past three years with only one top-10 finish. She finished fourth at Q-school to earn exempt status this season.
"Some bumps and bruises along the way. You get knocked down, you've got to get back up," Kuehne said. "I've certainly struggled. I think the struggle definitely taught me to be humble to say the least."
Kuehne credited her preparation heading into the season and her caddie, Tracy Phillips, who also serves as a short game coach.
"He's my ace in the hole. If I follow directions, it usually goes in," she said.
Yang, known previously as Young-A Yang, is seeking her first win in 121 starts. Her best finish last year was a 21st-place tie at the Wegmans LPGA.
It was overcast and mostly calm on the Palmer Course, except for the raging surf on the North Shore.
The 37-year-old Sorenstam was playing at Turtle Bay for the first time and beginning her season a month earlier than usual. She is making her first appearance in Hawaii since winning the 2002 LPGA Takefuji Classic at Waikoloa.
"It's different to play in Hawaii," she said. "This is an important year for me. I want to come back and of course you want to start well."
Sorenstam is determined to reclaim the No. 1 ranking after being limited to 13 events last year because of neck and back injuries. She had six top-10s finishes in 2007.
The Swede opened her round with a birdie and three-putted the next hole for bogey. She also missed several makable birdie putts, including a 4-footer on the par-5 14th that lipped out.
Sorenstam and Creamer dropped long birdie putts on No. 16 to reach 3 under and pull within two strokes of the lead. They both double-bogeyed the par-4 17th. Sorenstam's drive sailed right into the bunker and she cringed as her short chip shot rolled back to near where she was standing.
After splitting the fairway with her drive, Creamer's second shot went into the rough. She chunked her chip, sending the ball flying over the green.
"I think I just lost focus there," Creamer said. "That's just part of not being in my routine of playing 18 holes everyday and finishing it up."
Sorenstam and Creamer both birdied the par-5 18th to get to 2 under. The group at 70 also included Michelle Ellis, Patricia Meunier-Lebouc, Meg Mallon, Gloria Park, In-Kyung Kim, Laura Diaz, Paige Mackenzie, rookie Yani Tseng, Mikaela Parmlid and Sandra Gal.
Creamer won the SBS last year for her first victory since 2005, holing a long birdie putt on the 17th hole to beat Julieta Granada by a stroke. Creamer also won the Tournament of Champions in November and finished third on the money list.